Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Good DRE Hunting

A few weeks ago, our wonderful Director of Religious Education let us know that she and her family would be moving out of state by April 1. She has been with us for three years and has absolutely transformed our Religious Education program--partly by enrolling her own daughter, a few grandkids, and enlisting the help of another friend as a teacher, who brought her own two children. When we dedicated kids that first year, we dedicated a horde of youngsters who were brought in by Lorie.

But she's been a dynamo with RE, even though she was not familiar with UUism at first and had a lot to learn. Under her direction, we've doubled the size of our program, our enrollment, and the interest of our congregation in RE!

So how do we replace her? This is the first time our congregation has done a real search for a DRE. When we found Lorie, it was more word of mouth than anything. She just appeared in the radar of the RE chair and was hired, just like that. But we're better organized now, we have a larger RE committee of parents and non-parents, and when we put an ad in the paper for a "liberal religious education director", we got several good applicants.

NOTE: a friendly congregant who reads this blog updated me on the extensive work that was done in hiring Lorie, work which I didn't fully see because my hours and time on the island were different at that time. Sorry for that oversight. It just looked like magic to me!

We've now interviewed and are leaning toward one candidate, though we haven't offered that person anything yet. But it's been an opportunity to assess what we want in our RE program, what we want RE to mean in the life of the congregation.

My personal view is that Religious Education is essential in a strong UU congregation. Our children need to know what their religious roots are, what our beliefs are, what we think about important religious concepts like a relationship with God, with Jesus, with other religious thinking.

It simply isn't true that if you're a UU you can believe anything you want! Since our beliefs shape our behavior and we ask certain behavior of our members, people tend to believe the same things, with variations. And we want our kids to be able to think through those behaviors and beliefs and own them, not just repeat them ritualistically. We want them to be able to answer their playground friends who may ask "do you believe in God?", "what do you believe about Jesus? or Mary or Buddha?", "are you saved?".

We give our kids time to work these things out themselves, through story, through wonderment, through conversation. We accept them as real people, with their own thoughts and ideas and preferences. We don't mind if they question what we tell them. But we do require that they treat others and the earth with respect and fairness.

The Favorite Son will doubtless have his own take on his RE upbringing, but I am convinced that the RE program at our home church in Colorado saved his bacon---and mine. Gosh, he was a rowdy kid, not a bad kid, just a small boy whose parents had divorced and who was too bright and too mouthy for his own good. He made a lot of parents uneasy; we were even kicked out of our "extended family" group because the two daughters of another family didn't like him. That still stings, but it's another story.

When the FS was in middle school, JUC offered what was then called AYS or "About Your Sexuality". Our current program is called OWL, "Our Whole Lives" and is a sexuality education course developed jointly by the UUA and the United Church of Christ. It's powerful stuff, and it's offered at various age levels.

The FS took it at about age 14 and that was a critical year for him. During that rough year of adolescence, he transitioned from being a kid who either alienated other kids by his behavior or enlisted them into his antics into a young man who cared about other people, who could take responsibility for his behavior, who could make amends for mistakes, who could tailor his behavior to meet the needs of most circumstances. It was a wonderful thing.

Throughout the years of his growing up, the church's RE program supported him (and his dad and me) steadily. The DRE during those years at JUC never gave up on him, nor did other adults who worked with the kids. They knew he was worth hanging onto and they loved him.

That's what I want for all our children, a place at church where they are loved and valued and given the chance to bloom, to be who they are in their heart of hearts. That's what every child needs and what many churches don't provide. I want our kids to know what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, how UUs live our lives, how we behave toward each other, how we respect ourselves and each other, and how we treat the earth.

So our new DRE, whoever that person may turn out to be, has a huge responsibility. But I know it will turn out well. There are some wonderful DREs nearby who will give all the help that person needs. Thanks to Kari and Kathy and Cathy, especially!


Mile High Pixie said...

Brilliant! It takes a village, they say, and it sounds like your RE groups are part of that village. Right on! I hope that you find someone who can provide that good steady leadership for y'all.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Pixie. When you get a chance, go visit Jefferson Unitarian Church out in Golden and see what's happening!

Kari said...

Well said, Kit! And all over the PNWD we're all going to miss Lorie.

We have a new formal mentoring program for new Religious Educators in the PNWD LREDA--let us know when you have the new person in place and we'll be here with great collegial support!

(and it really is the very best job in the whole world--no doubt about it!)

boston unitarian said...

I hope that your search ends up well for everyone. Thank you for your good words on Religious Eduation esp. your strong statement about that old UU standby definer, "we can believe anything we want"
Blessings, BU

LinguistFriend said...

Those are good comments on the importance of the DRE for young people. However, integrating the
educational function for adults into the overall program is really important also. Many of the adults are in painful states after separation from Christianity, and need help to form a perspective on it, at least as much as orientation to UUism. Otherwise the results of that separation can turn out to be a continuing negative reaction to anything that reminds them of their previous negative religious experience - such as having and interacting with a minister, or the UUA. That syndrome can paralyze whole congregations from taking needed steps forward.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Kari and BU. RE will always get a shoutout from me.

LF, I totally agree with what you're saying but face the reality of too few hours and dollars to be able to commit much time to that issue. I have thoughts about it, however. Maybe another post on down the road.

Kari said...

Sorry, double comment.....

LF is right about our move toward "Lifespan Religious Education"--many Religious Educators have the charge of creating dynamic outreaching ministry for the whole age range in the congregation. And it is so good. With our tiny hours and huge scope it's hard to fit it in. But it's not a bad idea to at least talk about it. My formal job description doesn't include adults, but I'm aware that I do serve the entire congregation and even just that vision helps me see the whole and not just the children, youth and families. (I work half time, 140 or so adults and 75 children and youth)

LinguistFriend said...

In your situation, Kit, I would expect what was done for adult RE to come mainly from the minister or other people with a broad religious background. I expect that only the largest churches would have the possibility of any adult RE slot, even part-time. In regard to Kari's comment, the teacher temperament that interacts well with young folks about such things is not necessarily the same one as suits adults anyway. I recall from the elementary school that my mother ran that the teachers who were wonderful with young children would often drive reasonable adults up a wall.

ms. kitty said...

Ever so true, LF. I love doing Adult RE. I would love to be able to do it here. But there aren't enough hours/dollars in my contract to do it. I encourage it, for sure, but I can't right now take it on.

Masasa said...

This was a great post Kit, and the comments are interesting. Thanks!

LF, I have to take exception to the assumptions behind "the teacher temperament that interacts well with young folks about such things is not necessarily the same one as suits adults anyway."

My religious educator colleagues are a very diverse bunch, and I can't even claim that *most* fit into a "teacher temperament" box. Especially one that would drive adults up the wall! Yikes! Your language conjurs up quite a narrow view of the work of faith development professionals. Especially in the west, the work of faith development ministries is quite different than simply helping the kids cut out paper hearts and telling them stories in sing-songy voices. I wish you could know half of the multi-talented folks I've come to know over the years.

Kari said...

Triple comment, sorry. But I agree Masasa. (and hi from Seattle!)

I love working with children, love it like the air. But so much of my work is with adult volunteers, and adult board members and adult staff that if I drove reasonable adults up a wall, well....I'd be sunk.

LinguistFriend said...

Masasa, my experience has been what I said. It has been that a number of effective early childhood teachers, therapists, etc. (by no means all), are a special breed. RE, the importance and professionals of which I value greatly, is more related to a teacher function than to most others, so that was where I drew a parallel; RE is conducted in many other ways than traditional education, of course, and so is effective teaching. Some people handle both adults and young students well, some don't. For instance, I don't do well with people younger than high school. It's only in recent years that I have learned ways to teach undergrads effectively, after earlier teaching MDs and doctoral students; that's just what my background is. Other people are wonderful with young people; I admire those who work well with populations that I can't reach, and wish that I understood how they do it.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, all, for your thoughts. I know that RE personnel are a diverse group; some are great with all ages, others are not.

ms. kitty said...

PS. We have chosen our new DRE and will call her today to offer her the job. I have my fingers crossed!